Tara Bass is the owner of the Remedy Shoppe, Alaska’s first licensed adult-use dispensary and the only such storefront in Skagway. I met her during a recent trip I took to Alaska, when the huge cruise ship I was traveling on docked in Skagway’s harbor, a major cruise destination for tourists from around the world. Skagway’s economy depends on out-of-towners, so many of the Remedy Shoppe’s customers, like myself, come from the distant south.
However, Bass told me that she thinks Remedy Shoppe hasn’t been able to tap into the tourism industry as much as the rest of the town because of Alaska’s cannabis regulations, though she’s optimistic for the future.
In 1896, the Klondike Gold Rush brought a major boom to Alaska’s economy, as a hundred thousand settlers and prospectors rushed onto the freezing land in search of riches. Since then, many of Alaska’s mining towns have gone through periods of boom and bust, a cycle driven by various industries promising prosperity and only occasionally delivering it. One such mining town is Skagway, tucked north of Juneau on the Gulf of Alaska, which is currently experiencing a roaring boom-time thanks to a bustling tourist industry. However, if one entrepreneur in Skagway has her way, the local economy will soon be boosted by cannabis — and a Klondike green rush will be born.
“I think that cannabis tourism will come when we are able to do more with it,” Bass said.
Not Easy Being Green
She said advertising for cannabis businesses is currently “a real issue,” with regulations on “things like how fast your ad is spoken on the radio.” As the first legal operator in Alaska, Bass said, “The last thing you want is to jeopardize your license.”
With a background in biology and psychology, Bass is not your usual stereotype of a dispensary owner and actually doesn’t use cannabis herself. When I spoke with Bass, she was quick to recognize that it wasn’t easy being the first to market and said this was why it was helpful to have friends.
“The town really helped me get up and running,” Bass said. “I think that is a big reason why I got the first license in the state.”
Alaska approved recreational cannabis use in 2014, after a successful ballot initiative. The measure, which allowed those over 21 to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and six plants, went into effect on Feb. 24, 2015. Retail marijuana sales began in October 2016. In those early days, bud was scarce, but licenses were even harder to come by and many retailers weren’t able to open as quickly as the Remedy Shoppe.
When the store first opened, all of its bud came from another retail store that was unable to open that first year, so Bass bought their harvest. On opening day, Bass said the business “had 5 pounds in four jars,” and now they have over 30 strains. Bass fondly remembered those 5 pounds as the first cannabis she had bought in her life.
Barren, But Not Totally Bleak
On my recent visit, while Remedy Shoppe boasted Blue Dream, Durban Poison, Jack Herer, OG Kush and many other popular strains. The stand out was the Matanuska Thunderf*ck (MTF). Though MTF is not a landrace strain, it is an infamous piece of Alaskan cannabis history and was at the top of my list for strains to try. With frosty white hairs and an earthy, citrus flavor, it definitely lived up its legendary status.
Coming from California, I am used to paying 40 percent in taxes on cannabis and I naively expected to find cheaper bud in Alaska. I could not have been more wrong, but I was also not alone. According to Bass, “a lot of people don’t understand the taxes.”
She explained that cannabis “is taxed at $50 an ounce, $800 a pound, and that is just the state, cities can put taxes on top of that.” Skagway had an additional 5 percent sales tax on top of that state tax.
Alaska’s Marijuana Control Board is currently debating changing the tax structure, particularly because of an inconsistency that makes the tax rates on less-pricey bud higher than tax rates on top-shelf bud. They are also looking to finally allow cannabis consumption lounges, something that Bass is ready and waiting for.
“I was one of the first people to apply for it with my license,” Bass said, noting she had already planned to convert the outdoor area we were speaking in — under the watchful gaze of picturesque snow-capped Alaskan mountains — into a consumption lounge.
“[On-site consumption] makes sense and we would love it,” Bass said. “We depend on the tourist industry and they need a safe place to go and use cannabis.”
Bass said that this was the third time the state has debated on-site consumption, so hopefully the third time’s a charm. Soon, she believes, Alaska’s tourists will have a place to legally enjoy some of Skagway’s finest bud and the green rush can begin.
371 3rd Ave
Skagway, AK 99840
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Originally published in Issue 35 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE